Sustainability is a word that we encounter and read about on a daily basis. It thus becomes important to know more about the concept. Broadly, sustainability refers to meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The broader concept refers to natural resources, social equity, and economic development. However, the primary driving force behind the concept of sustainability emanates from two of the most pressing issues of today: judicious use of scarce natural resources and environmentalism.
Extending the concept to architecture, sustainable architecture seeks to limit the negative impact of buildings on the environment through efficiency and moderate use of materials, energy, development space, and the ecosystem at large. The main focus areas in sustainable architecture rest on a premise of conservation in energy consumption and building material use. The idea is to look at building design that is aimed at limiting the impact of humanity on the environment.
Sustainable architecture is a major consideration in building design as architects try to ensure that buildings generate minimal harmful effects to the ecosystem and the communities.
Sustainable architecture has its reflections in three major areas:
- Materials. Building materials, construction methodology, and use of resources.
- Operation. Sustainable operation during the building life cycle, including its ultimate disposal.
- Energy efficiency. Construction with the goal of achieving long-term energy and resource efficiency as well as function.
The benefits in the implementation of sustainable architecture are multipronged, and positive impact can be derived in environmental, economic, and social space. Some of these are:
- Conservation and restoration of natural resources,
- Reduction in energy consumption and waste,
- Reduction in continued dependence on traditional energy sources,
- Improvement in productivity and performance, and
- Reduced demands on local utility infrastructure.
As architects around the globe increase their focus on the unique challenge sustainability presents in architecture, a conscious shift has been made to buildings being sustainably designed. These buildings strive to reduce their impact on the environment through energy and resource efficiency, reduction in non-renewable resource consumption, and enhancing the natural environment.
What Is A Green Building?
Sustainable architecture has resulted in the emergence of the “green” building. The World Green Building Council defines a Green building that, in its design, construction, or operation, reduces or eliminates negative impacts and can create positive impacts on our climate and natural environment. Green buildings preserve precious natural resources and improve our quality of life.
Thus sustainable architecture, or green architecture, or green design, is an approach to building structures that minimize harmful effects on humans and the environment.
Green buildings, thus created, may have several defining characteristics and features like:
- Efficient use of energy, water, and other resources like use of water-saving plumbing fixtures, energy-efficient lighting, and ventilation systems designed for efficient heating and cooling.
- Use of alternative or renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
- Reduction of waste and pollution and promotion of reuse and recycling.
- Improved indoor environmental air quality.
- Use of building materials that are non-toxic, non-synthetic, responsibly harvested, recycled, ethical, and sustainable.
- Consideration of the environment in design, construction, and operation, e.g., efficient use of space, minimal harm to the natural habitat.
- Consideration of the quality of life of occupants in design, construction, and operation.
- A design that enables adaptation to a changing environment.
While most green buildings may not have all these features, green components such as solar energy and rainwater harvesting bring multiple benefits and are effective means to addressing climate change, driving sustainability, and promoting economic growth and vibrant communities.
Some key advantages in the adoption of green buildings are their potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thus safeguarding the environment; reduction in energy use, thereby cost savings on energy spending; reduced and efficient water use and recycling of waste water to minimize the detrimental effects of polluted water; community benefits through a lowered carbon footprint and conserved resources; and human benefits such as well-being, satisfaction, engagement, and productivity.
Buildings that are healthier, cleaner, and greener do good not only for the planet, but also for the people.
Green Buildings and the Sustainable Development Goals
Green buildings contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, and can truly catalyze and address some of the most pressing issues of the world.
- COST-EFFECTIVE & CLEAN ENERGY (SDG 7). The most cost-effective energy is the through renewable energy sources that are not put to use. However, green buildings leverage renewable energy, which is cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. Renewable energy produces no carbon emissions, hence, limiting the impact on the planet is an additional benefit.
- SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES & CITIES (SDG 11). Almost 60 percent of the world’s population will settle down in the urban areas by 2030; hence, ensuring their sustainability is of paramount importance. Buildings are the foundation of urban cities, and green buildings are key to their long-term sustainability. Be it homes, schools, shops, offices, or green spaces, the makeup of communities are the end result of the built environment that must be sustainable to ensure a high quality of life for all. In fact, in many countries, Green Building Councils have developed tools that encourage the formation of green neighborhoods and districts, and have helped cities like Mandaue in Philippines to create and implement policies that promote sustainability across cities.
- LIFE ON LAND (SDG 15) – The materials used to construct a building play a major role in determining its sustainability. Hence the construction industry and its supply chains have a significant role to play in leveraging responsibly sourced materials such as timber. Green building certification tools also acknowledge the need to reduce the use of water; value the biodiversity, ensuring it is protected; and incorporate this into the area they build on during and after construction, minimizing the damage and design to enhance biodiversity, such as through landscaping with local flora.
The way homes and workspaces are designed have an impact on our health, our neighborhoods, and the planet. As a result, the concept of green buildings has started to make an impact in building design and architecture. While in the past some realty players were reluctant to make the switch to green buildings due to higher upfront costs, trends have started to change as people view the broader picture of larger investment returns, such as reduced emissions, lower utility costs, and increased social value.
Green buildings are not about fads and trends. They must be designed in a way that ensures their resilience and adaptability, keeping our changing global climate in mind. This is critical in developing countries, most of which are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But it’s not solely about future proof buildings, the infrastructure must be equally sustainable and resilient to future risks.
Green Buildings and the Environment
The World Environment Day is celebrated across the globe on 5th June and is the principal platform of the United Nations to create awareness and action to protect the Earth’s fragile environment.
Buildings are one of the largest consumers of resources such as water, energy, and other materials. Besides, they contribute wastes and pollutants during the three phases of their life cycle: construction, maintenance, and deconstruction. The rampant degradation of the environment across the globe has made it imperative to take measures to optimize the use of natural resources and reduce waste. The shift to green building construction and practices can address these concerns and help make a shift to a sustainable environment.
Buildings Affect the Climate
According to Architecture 2030, buildings account for almost 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Additionally, if we take into account the other activities, and infrastructure, such as transportation, and other buildings, the number jumps further. With green buildings, the impact our buildings have on climate change can be significantly reduced, while also building resilience into our homes and communities.
Green Buildings Generate Fewer Greenhouse Gases
Green buildings encompass a structure’s design, planning, construction, operations, and end-of-life recycling and renovation, while considering indoor environmental quality, energy, water, materials selection and location. Green buildings reduce landfill waste, enabling alternative transportation use, and encouraging retention and creation of vegetated land areas and roofs. High-performing green buildings, the LEED-certified buildings in specific, provide the means to reduce the climate impacts of buildings and their occupants.
LEED rewards all the thoughtful decisions that encourage compact development and connection with transit and amenities, helping the lower GHGs in association with transportation. Additionally, less transport of materials to and from the buildings eliminates the associated fuel consumption. All this combined significantly reduces the carbon footprint of buildings and its occupants beyond what energy efficiency alone does. The inhabitants providing feedback, using systems that showcase a building’s environmental efforts and performance, can drive further reductions.
What better than for the community, architects, policy makers, and users to come together to take a pledge to move toward green buildings and take a step to safeguard the habitat and environment.
S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation), a rural development NGO in India, has constructed its headquarters building in Gurugram, Haryana, according to the Platinum Standards LEED set by U.S. Green Building Council and the Indian Green Building Council.
The founders of S M Sehgal Foundation, Dr. Suri Sehgal and Mrs. Edda Sehgal, conceptualized the “green” design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the building to be in keeping with the organization’s mission to promote sustainable rural development in India and reduce the building’s impact on human health and the environment.
Sehgal Foundation’s building includes green features like photo-voltaic solar panels on the rooftop generating 35 kW of electricity; solar water heaters; shading devices; a rainwater harvesting storage tank of 800,000 liters; onsite recycling of gray and black water; groundwater recharging (zero runoff site); courtyards maximizing natural light and ventilation; recycled wood; various endangered plant species; use of in-situ bricks; maintenance-free exteriors; insulated walls; use of rapidly renewable rubber wood and bamboo; double-glazed glass, and a highly reflective roof finish, among others.
The construction of the building is based more on common sense and only a small part uses sophisticated technology. With intelligent designs such as that of the S M Sehgal Foundation building, electricity cost can be brought down by almost 50 percent. The incorrect notion of the high cost of green buildings is a myth. S M Sehgal Foundation in line with their mission “to achieve positive social, economic, and environmental change” have constructed this ecofriendly building, taking a step toward sustainability.
Watch a video on S M Sehgal Foundation’s green building in Gurugram, Haryana